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The Tree of Leaden Apples
THERE was once a princess who was not grown up, as they mostly are in stories, but was a little girl like yourself, though she wore long dresses as princesses do, whether they be little or big.
Despite the fact that the princess had hundreds of playthings, beautiful dolls, and real ponies to drive, she was not a happy little girl. Indeed at the moment this story begins. she sat in the beautiful garden of the palace, as unhappy as could he, because nothing in the world gave her pleasure.
"What do you wish, little Princess to make you happy?" whispered a voice in her car.
"I wish a little friend to play with all day long." Hardly had she said the words when across the garden came a beautiful lady with a fair-haired boy. "Oh!" cried the princess, taking the boy's hand, "what a nice little playmate you will be!" and without "By your leave" to the beautiful lady, who at once disappeared, she led him away.
The two played happily, day after day, in the beautiful garden; and the princess could not have found a more generous companion than the flaxen-haired boy. If they had red apples he picked the largest and reddest for the princess; if they sailed ships she must have the finest; whatever it was the princess must have the best of it, taking everything with not so much as a "Thank you!"
Nevertheless she grew tired of her playfellow, and told him one day to go away and leave her alone. No sooner had she said this than he disappeared! The princess shrugged her shoulders, saying she was glad he was gone.
Soon, however, she found that the garden, without her playmate, was a lonely place; and thinking him hid nearby, she ran about calling him. But the fair-haired boy did not answer, and the princess, disappointed and angry, sat by the fountain and wept. While she was weeping, a wise little toad came, and hopped about at her feet.
"See!" he said, "how easy it is to be happy! When a fly comes near I snap him, and say 'Thank you!' and that does till the next one."
"Thank you, indeed!" cried the princess. "You are but a poor little toad, and should be thankful, but I am a princess, and should have what I wish, and thank nobody!"
"Ah me!" sighed the toad, for he knew what the trouble was.
One day an old beggar woman came by.
"Pretty miss, give me a ha' penny," she whined, "and I will give you my blessing."
"What good will the blessing of such as you do me?" asked the princess. And at that the old woman slipped a bag over the princess's head, dragging her along through thicket and brush, screams and all, for no one could hear her through the thick bag: no one but the toad, who had hopped into the princess's pocket without being seen.
At last they stopped. The old woman blew a shrill whistle and a great raven flew down, carrying her and the princess away on his back. Up, up! they went, till the princess thought they must have reached the moon; then down they came with a thump! and the bag was whisked off as quickly as it had been put on.
"Now, my pretty Princess," said the beggar woman, as the great raven flew away, "you may not get away as quickly as you came, so make yourself at home. I will give you this golden plate and goblet, and you may fare well, for they will be filled as often as you please, for a 'Thank you!' " So saying she disappeared.
Then the toad, who had stayed quietly in the princess's pocket all the time, hopped out and said: " Princess, if you wish to find the way out, you must think twice before you speak."
"Think twice! indeed!" cried the princess, who thought things were bad enough without being advised by an ugly toad. "As if a princess had to be bothered with thinking!" With that she picked up the toad, and threw him as far as she could.
Having no one to talk to she walked about, and soon found herself in a beautiful grove of trees, whose branches, laden with fruit, reached invitingly down to her.
Plucking a plateful of the luscious fruit, without so much as a " Thank you," as was her way, she sat down to eat it. While she ate, a white cow with silver horns came and laid her soft nose in the princess's hand.
Who, indeed, but a princess, should drink milk from this beautiful cow! So milking her goblet full, she drank with a relish.
But her thirst was not quenched nor her hunger satisfied, so she set about to fill her plate and goblet again. What was her surprise, – when she started to pluck an apple, the tree lifted its branches far out of her reach!
She went to the next tree and the next. but all did the same, and not a peach nor a pear could she pluck! In a rage she stamped her foot; but the trees only lifted their branches higher, and sang softly:
The princess tossed her head, and taking her goblet, went in search of the white cow. But the cow would give no milk, whereupon the princess threw her goblet at the gentle creature, and broke off one of her silver horns.
"Oh, what will the old woman say!" she cried. And quickly, to hide what she had done, she dug a hole and buried the horn. Immediately there sprang up from the spot a tree full of shining apples that looked like silver!
"How clever I am!" cried the princess, now smiling. "How pleased the old woman will be to have these apples for nothing but the broken horn of a cow!"
That was the way she looked at it; but you know, some say green is "green," and others say green is "blue!"
"So you have caused a tree of ugly, leaden apples to grow in my orchard!" cried the beggar woman. "Go to picking them this instant, and do not stop till every apple is gone!"
"Oh, oh! " wailed the princess, "I thought they were silver apples!"
"Silver, indeed!" snapped the old woman. "You have been sowing only seeds for leaden apples, and now you call them silver! Let me hear no more such nonsense, but get to plucking them, for you have more of a task than you think."
"Alas!" thought the princess, beginning at once to pluck apples, "if the friendly little toad were here he would help me."
But there was no stopping to find the road. Indeed it looked as if the princess would be plucking apples forever! for as fast as she plucked one, another grew in its place, and when night came there was not one apple the less on the tree.
The princess lay down on the grass, and was soon fast asleep. While she slept, she saw a white cloud floating towards her. It stopped and out of it stepped her fair-haired playmate.
"Oh, why have you come?" she cried.
"To tell you how to pick the leaden apples, little Princess. Break one open and see what is inside." Then, though the princess tried to stop him, he stepped back into the cloud, and floated away.
When she awoke it was daylight. Immediately she plucked an apple and broke it open. Across each half was the word "ingratitude!"
She broke another, to find it the same; and still another had the ugly word inside. In astonishment the princess sat gazing at the broken apples, and there's no telling how long she'd have puzzled but for the cow, who came up and said:
"'Gratitude' is the opposite of 'ingratitude.'"
The princess opened her pretty eyes very wide, and threw her arms around the white cow's neck, weeping to think how ungrateful she had been to the gentle, forgiving creature.
Thud! an apple tumbled to the ground! None came in its place, and instantly the cow's silver horn reappeared on her head.
Then the princess picked up her skirts, and ran through the orchard crying, "Thank you, trees, for your fruit!" and the trees bent down their branches, whispering softly as if they were pleased.
When she came back to the tree of leaden apples, the ground beneath it was strewn with the ugly fruit which shrivelled up and disappeared before her very eyes! Yet there remained on the tree two apples.
"One is my ingratitude to the beggar woman!" cried the princess. "But for her I would not have known I was sowing seed for leaden apples!" Down came one of the apples! and before her appeared the beautiful lady who had brought the fair-haired boy to the palace garden.
"Little Princess!" she exclaimed, "your ingratitude to me harmed only you, for it took the ugly shape of the beggar woman and hid my real self!"
"Oh!" exclaimed the princess, and without more words ran to look for the little toad.
"Little toad," she cried, "I have been most ungrateful to you!"
Thump! down came the last apple! The tree disappeared, and there stood her playmate, a real little prince!
"Come, dear Princess," he cried, "let us go back to our garden."
The beautiful lady put a little silver whistle to her lips and blew a sweet blast – immediately the great raven appeared.
"Go, little ones," she said, "sow wisely and you will always be happy."
She kissed them good bye and away they sailed to the palace garden, where they are sowing seeds for silver apples, and golden ones too, for all I know.